Suicide Survivor Guilt
When I was growing up, my father thought about ways to kill himself as regularly as I outgrew my shoes. There were pills to my penny loafers, carbon monoxide to my jelly sandals, razors to my Doc Martens. I was 4, 10 and 28 when he made his most damaging attempts.
We found him: on the side of the road, on the side of the bed, in my grandmother’s garage where he’d tried to make a tomb of the giant powder-blue Oldsmobile we called Orca.
When he was not trying to kill himself, I thought of myself as a superhero. I remember thinking as a child: He is alive today, and today, and today. I have loved him enough to keep him alive.
It was a terrible burden to feel that I was responsible for keeping him alive. I tried to make myself quiet. If my sister and I laughed, it could make him angry, which would then make him sad. Did I want to laugh more than I wanted my father to stay alive? I learned not to ask for things, either, like money to get pizza with friends after school. If he didn’t have the extra money, he’d feel guilty, which would make him depressed. Did I want a slice of pizza more than I wanted my father to stay alive?
The reasoning was as reductive as it was delusional.
I now understand that what kept him from succeeding in those attempts was equal parts happenstance and regret, and what kept him alive afterward was therapy and medication, as well as hospitalization when he needed more intense care.
As it happened, after all of his efforts to end his life, my father died last July when he was hit by two cars as he walked with a friend on the side of a road in a thick, early morning fog. The police investigation confirmed it was an accident.
When I woke up Friday to the news that Anthony Bourdain had ended his life on the heels of the news that Kate Spade had ended hers, I felt a tremendous sense of sadness, both because they were gone and because they had been in so much pain.
当我周五醒来，听到安瑟尼·波登(Anthony Bourdain)紧接着凯特·斯佩德(Kate Spade)自杀的新闻后，我感到了一种巨大的悲哀。既因为他们都已离开人世，又因为他们曾经历太多痛苦。
But I cried for their loved ones and friends, who I imagined might be replaying their last interactions, trying to find the sign they had missed, the opportunity they should have taken, the point in the timeline at which they could have saved him. Could have rescued her.
Twitter, Facebook and Instagram were exploding with grief and compassion. It is a beautiful thing to see how much love people are capable of. It is tremendously encouraging to hear the battle cries to destigmatize mental illness. To see strangers sharing their own phone numbers: Call me! Call me! If you are ever at that point, call me!
But the messages urging people to reach out to help loved ones and strangers carry an unspoken and unintended flip side: That if a person succeeds in ending his life, the people around him might not have been paying enough attention, or trying hard enough.
I worry about the effect these messages have on those who have lost someone to suicide, deepening their grief with an extra layer of guilt.
“Rather than thinking, ‘I wish I could’ve fixed this,’ if we can use these moments as a wake up call to think, ‘I want to be more present and aware and connected and empathetic in general,’ — that would be so much more productive,” said Dr. Gregory Dillon, assistant professor of medicine and psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College. “And perhaps if all of us did that — and if communication, understanding and empathy were generally better — maybe fewer of these situations would come to a head.”
“与其去想，‘我希望我能解决这个问题’，我们不如用这样的时刻来敲响警钟，想想‘我希望能更多地在身边，更有意识，更多沟通，更有同理心’，——这会更有成效，”威尔·康奈尔医学院(Weill Cornell Medical College)药物和精神病学副教授格雷戈里·狄龙博士(Dr. Gregory Dillon)说。“而如果我们所有人都这么做——并且沟通、理解和同理心在总体上都有所提高——这种境况就不那么容易发展成危机。”
The news of the deaths of both Ms. Spade and Mr. Bourdain came in the same week that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported a 25 percent increase in suicide rates from 1999 to 2016, a year in which nearly 45,000 Americans ended their own lives. That suggests a lot of Americans may be devastated by the thought that they didn’t do enough.
斯佩德和波登去世消息传出的同一周，美国疾病防控中心(Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)发布报告称，从1999年到2016年自杀率增长了25%，在2016年有将近4.5万名美国人结束了自己的生命。这就意味着，还有许多美国人可能正在被“自己做得不够”的念头摧残。
But I could no more have saved my dad from the tons of metal that hurtled toward him when he was hit by those cars than I could save him from the pills he swallowed, the razor he wielded or the carbon monoxide he inhaled.
That’s not to say we shouldn’t be present, be loving, be involved. That’s not to say we shouldn’t share advice, resources, empathy. We should try. With all our might.
“It’s cruel to blame ourselves and others for something that was ultimately out of our hands,” said Lakeasha Sullivan, a psychologist in New York. “But we can carry some of this burden collectively. We can start by engaging in real conversations — national conversations — about the quiet voice in all of us that sometimes questions the meaning of life and allows hopelessness and despair to set in.”
It is imperative that we try to help people find a way out of their pain that doesn’t end in death, but we need to recognize that if their attempt is a success, it is not because our love was a failure.